Original Roman Constitution - Early History under the Kings - Origin of the Plebeians

With the enlargement of the population of Rome by the addition of these new masses of citizens, a change of the constitution became of course necessary. The following seems to have been the form ultimately assumed: - Governed by a common sovereign, eligible by the whole community from one of the superior tribes - the Ramnes and the Tities - the three tribes intrusted the conduct of their affairs to a senate composed of 200 members, 100 of whom represented the gentes of the Ramnes, and 100 the gentes of the Tities. The Luceres as an inferior tribe, were not rep resented in the senate; and their political influence was limited to the right to vote with the other two tribes in the general assemblies of the whole people.

In these general assemblies, or Comitia, as they were called, the people voted; not individually, nor in families, nor in gentes, but in divisions called Curia or Curies; the Curia being the tenth part of a tribe, and including, according to the ancient system of round numbers, ten gentes. Thus the entire Populus Romanus, or Roman people, of this primitive time, consisted of thirty curies ten curies of Ramnes, ten of Tities, and ten of Luceres: the ten curies of each tribe corresponding to 100 gentes, and the thirty curies together making up 300 gentes. As the Luceres were an inferior tribe, their gentes were called Gentes Minores, or Lesser Houses; while those of the Ramnes and Tities were called Gentes Majores or Greater Houses. The assembly of the whole people was called the Comitia Curiatia, or meeting of curies. After a measure had been matured by the king and senate, it was submitted to the whole people in their curies, who might accept or reject, but could not alter, what was thus proposed to them. An appeal was also open to the curies against any sentence of the king, or of the judges nominated by him in his capacity of supreme justiciary. The king, moreover, was the high priest of the nation in peace, as well as the commander-in-chief during war. The 300 gentes furnished each a horseman, so as to constitute a body of cavalry; the mass of the people forming the infantry. The right of assembling the senate lay with the king, who usually convened it three times a month.

Such was ancient Rome, as it appears to the historic eye endeavoring to penetrate the mists of the past, where at first all seems vague and wavering. The inquirer to whom we owe the power to conceive the condition of ancient Rome, so far as that depended on political institutions, was the celebrated German historian Niebuhr. Not so, however, did the Romans conceive their own early history. In all ancient communities, it was a habit of the popular imagination, nay, it was part of the popular religion; to trace the fortunes of the community to some divine or semi-divine founder; whose exploits, as well as those of his heroic successors, formed the subject of numerous sacred legends and ballads. Now, it was part of the Roman faith that their city had been founded at a point of time corresponding with B.C. 754, by twin brothers of miraculous birth, called Romulus and Remus, whose father was the war god Mars, and their mother a vestal virgin of the line of the Alban kings.

Romulus, according to this legend, surviving his brother Remus, became the king of the village of shepherds which he had founded on the Palatine; and it was in his reign that those events took place which terminated in the establishment of the triple community of the Ramnes, Tities, and Luceres. Setting out with Romulus, the Romans traced the history of their state through a series of legends relating to six kings his successors, whose characters, and the lengths of their reigns, are all duly determined. Of this traditionary succession of seven kings, extending over a period of 245 years (B.C. 754-509), history can recognize with certainty the existence of only the two or three latest. It is possible, however, to elicit out of the legends a glimmering of the actual history of the Roman state during these imaginary reigns.